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December 01, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Elsie Floriani puts thoughts on life between hard covers Elsie Floriani puts thoughts on life between hard covers (December 01, 2004)

Gentry magazine co-founder publishes a book of essays

By Jane Knoerle

Almanac Lifestyles Editor

Elsie Floriani's life is an open book. It's all right there in "My Life as an Accordion," a compilation of editorial pieces written for Gentry, the magazine she co-founded in the early 1990s.

The book, dedicated to her three children, contains "some lessons of life which I have learned, which I believe in, and which I would like to share with you."

The title comes from the book, "And the Ladies of the Club," in which one of the characters says, "Life is like an accordion ... all the air squeezed out of it as you grow older."

Ms. Floriani is too modest. There seems to be plenty of air in her life. Now in her 60s, she is the co-founder and executive editor of Gentry, a successful magazine that some predicted would never make it. She shares a warm relationship with her children, has dozens of friends, and, just a couple of years ago, reconnected with her high school sweetheart, Ron Wendt, and married him.

Asked if all her friends were going to receive copies of "My Life as an Accordion" as Christmas presents, she said most of them had already acquired the book at a book signing at Nouveau Trattoria, one of her favorite restaurants.

"Ron sent out invitations. It was fun to have all my friends there, and I gave a little reading. Just like the big kids do." The book ($21.95) is available at Kepler's Books & Magazines in Menlo Park.

It took about nine months for Ms. Floriani to pore over 10 years of essays and decide what to include in the book. "I really wrote it for my children. I wanted to leave a trace of me."

Ms. Floriani's essays are frank and personal. Her mentor, James Waddell, former president of Menlo College, writes in the book's forward: "Her essays are reflections on those small, daily moments that shape us as individuals. These moments include the giving of a gift, getting rid of a car, facing the perils of packing, sorting through old photos and play golf. Elsie's insight and unfailing honesty also help us to see more clearly the special moments of our lives."

There's a touch of Cinderella about Ms. Floriani. She lived in a housing project as a youngster, became a career girl, married a wealthy Italian man and lived in Italy for five years. She has had lavish homes in Woodside and Atherton, and now lives in a Menlo Park penthouse apartment.

After a divorce, she transformed herself from a tennis-playing society matron to a successful business woman.

Do her grown children, whose lives have been chronicled in her essays, sometimes squirm over personal revelations? "When I write about my kids, I always run it by them," she says.

She now has three grandchildren, who will likely grow up on the pages of Gentry. Her youngest son, Daniele, is being married in Italy in July, and the wedding will be featured in Gentry, as was her daughter Nicole's a few years ago.

Gentry magazine is a combination of Ms. Floriani's folksy wisdom and sleek production. Its pages are filled with glossy photographs of the "local gentry" and their sumptuous homes, interspersed with ads for plastic surgery, fine jewelry, interior designers, and multi-million-dollar homes.

The magazine's RSVP section brims with snapshots from charity balls, fashion shows, horse shows and fundraisers.

Ms. Floriani doesn't see Gentry as an elite publication, however. "The magazine reflects what our community is. It's not Cucamonga. Our whole goal was to be a community magazine. I wanted to serve the community and to concentrate on all the good things there are here ... to celebrate that positivity."

Gentry is mailed free to some 26,000 upper-crust households from Hillsborough to Los Altos Hills. An additional 4,000 are either sold at newsstands or distributed elsewhere. "We go to where we think people would want to read us," says Ms. Floriani.

She credits co-founder and publisher Sloane Citron and vice president Richard Aquaviva with much of Gentry's success. "If I had to sell an ad, we'd be out of business in a week."

Beginning in January, a new edition, Gentry South Valley, will be mailed to selected Silicon Valley ZIP codes, such as Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos and certain areas of San Jose.

18 Media, which publishes Gentry, recently sold a majority interest in its other magazine, California Home & Design, to Hartle Media of San Francisco.

Although Ms. Floriani hopes the future leaves more time to play golf, she says, "I can't imagine my life without the magazine. It's so much of what I am. I'm happy to wake up and go to work."

Reflecting on her life, she says, "It has been reduced to a series of Gs: Gentry, golf, gardening and grandchildren."


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